First of all, the good news: The Raptors lost to the Cavs Tuesday night, and worse yet (for them), Chris Bosh broke some bones in his face, and didn't take the plane back to Toronto. You'd have to think his status for their game tomorrow is doubtful.
[and good news for me: I got my cable and internet back. And I watched this game live so I was able to mute and sync with the radio call (first time I did so for an entire game, I'm usually a slave to DVR). I'm stunned how much more pleasant the experience was, even in a terrible game like this one. I'm convinced my entire season would've gone much better if I didn't have the subconscious (and sometimes more) thoughts wanting the Bulls to do bad so Neil and Stacy would shut the hell up. Swirsk and Wennington just call the freaking basketball game, and do so competently. Amazing.]
But this is only a playoff race if the Bulls take care of their own business, and being well-rested, at home, and with a Bucks team just learning how to play without their best player, the Bulls started hot but then only had 47 points in the final 3 quarters.
Even when the lead evaporated in the middle quarters I was sure the Bucks would have a scoring drought long enough for the Bulls to take the game back over. We all knew that despite what circumstances the Bucks were coming in with, they were not going to go down easy. Above all else this is a Scott Skiles team, and Skiles was one to not only never make excuses for injuries but he'd refuse to even acknowledge him. And Kurt Thomas is clearly a step down from Andrew Bogut, but he might as well have been Othella Harrington or Malik Allen or any other statue of a big man that Skiles has relied upon over the years in still having his teams play defense.
But it's not as much about the backup as it is about the backup's backup, and the Bulls clearly had an advantage seeing Kurt Thomas replaced by Dan Gadzuric, or the small-ball that Skiles likes, and I figured that while spirited in effort, they just would not have the weapons to keep up. However, any team can 'keep up' with a 74 point night, and the Bulls offense was awful.
The Bucks effectively limited Derrick Rose, and the secondary offensive options of Deng and Hinrich both had bad games. Hinrich started out the game relatively hot (3-5) and after his great game against Charlotte I thought maybe he had another one coming, but the good-game streak ended at one (I believe that's the season high?) and he then missed 10 out of his next 11 shots. Deng had a slightly better game statistically (16pts, 10rebs) but I found him forcing a lot of his own looks and being a ball-stopper. Including in the most crucial play of the game, down 4 with 13 seconds remaining, Deng's indecision took so much time off the clock that by the time Brad Miller traveled it already was a wasted possession.
And that possession (as well as the one after it, which had similar results: too much wasted time, Derrick Rose not touching the ball) capped yet another signature loss for Vinny Del Negro. The offensive flow looked terrible all night (and noticed after seeing the four factors box: the FT discrepancy, yikes), and I thought the 4th quarter minutes were strange: From 3:30 in the 3rd quarter to a minute left in the 4th, Noah only played 4:10. Brad Miller had some great plays tonight (including a drive and dunk which would bring 'turn back the clock' jokes if only Miller ever had done that) but he's a defensive liability that the Skiles knew how to exploit with his motion offense. Even worse was a 3-minute stretch in the fourth where neither Noah nor Gibson was in, with Miller being the lone big with Rose/Hinrich/Murray/Deng. Sort of nitpicking (it was a very tight rotation, and maybe Noah can't get much more than 30 minutes), but this was a huge game, and when it was obvious that the Bucks weren't going away, it was a very huge fourth quarter. Not having your best out there is the worst a coach can do.
It was also strange to see John Salmons scoring so well (26 pts on 19 shots) and Kirk Hinrich not guarding him. Granted, you'd think Deng would be a good matchup but Salmons was blowing by him frequently, and when Hinrich was on him he didn't do that much better. But isn't this the guy we keep because of his supposed superlative perimeter defense?
I really felt that this team was going to finish the season quite well. Even James Johnson returned and made a nice play, so it was literally everyone being healthy and contributing (ok, not you Jerome James). This would be the start of a late-season surge to the 8th spot, especially with Toronto losing today. It's not over yet and Bosh's injury may cause him to miss a few games, but we saw tonight that sometimes the healthy team isn't always the best prepared to win.